- Special Projects
A nonprofit organization that runs a state park on Kaneohe Bay is continuing to offer kayak rentals to paying customers of all ages despite the disapproval of the state.
Holokai Snorkel and Kayak Adventures operates at He’eia State Park with both guided and self-guided kayak and snorkel tours providing access to a popular sandbar and snorkeling spots. Billed as an educational eco-tour program, it’s run by Kama’aina Kids, which has been overseeing park operations since 2010 and provides kayaking opportunities for young campers.
The Kaneohe Bay Regional Council determined in September that Holokai was running a commercial operation despite the parent organization’s nonprofit designation. A new commercial operation in the bay would be in direct violation of current Hawaii law, which prohibits any increase of commercial activities in Kaneohe Bay.
As a result, DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation prohibited Holokai from running any of its kayak, stand-up paddleboard and snorkel activities.
DOBOR offered Kama’aina Kids a commercial use permit to only run kayak tours for kids in its summer camps. Kama’aina Kids is an educational nonprofit that offers various child-care services across the state, including after-school care and day care for conventions and at resorts.
But Ray Sanborn, president of the organization, said it needs the revenue from Holokai to maintain the park for the state.
Sanborn said he met with DLNR Chair Suzanne Case to discuss the terms of the permit offer. Until he hears otherwise, Holokai will continue to operate as it has.
“We wouldn’t be able to support the park,” Sanborn said. “We currently subsidize the park, and we wouldn’t be able to do that.”
DLNR asked the regional council to assess the Holokai operation because some residents have complained since 2013 about commercial activity on the bay.
Loren Lasher can see the bay from his front lanai. He’s an avid kayaker, and began launching complaints when he saw Holokai bringing tourists into the water.
He said Kama’aina Kids overstepped its bounds by considering Holokai Snorkel and Kayak Adventures part of its educational nonprofit venture when he said it is clearly a commercial operation with round-trip transportation from Waikiki.
Current Hawaii law does not allow for any increase in commercial activity in Kaneohe Bay. It does allow for a nonprofit organization to obtain a permit from the DLNR to conduct educational activities on the bay.
Kama’aina Kids has never had either a commercial use permit or an educational permit, but its activities were grandfathered in through a provision in the Kaneohe Bay Master Plan. The state-implemented plan was created by a task force of community members, commercial operators and state officials in the 1990s to combat uncontrolled commercial tourism and fishing on the bay.
Sanborn said Holokai was established to use the boats already registered to be on the water to help pay for the expense of maintaining the park.
The laws regarding commercial kayaks changed in 2014. Now all commercial kayaks in state ocean waters must be run in tandem with a commercial use permit.
The state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation offered Kama’aina Kids a commercial use permit based on this new law, DOBOR’s Oahu district manager Meghan Statts said at the September Kaneohe Bay Regional Council meeting. The educational nonprofit would be grandfathered in for a permit with restrictions to only allow its summer camp tours for kids.
But that won’t pay the bills, Sanborn said.
“To get the lease (to operate the park), we had to show them how we would make revenue to maintain the park, and this is how we could make the money,” Sanborn said.
Kama’aina Kids was awarded the lease to He’eia State Park in 2010 by DLNR Division of State Parks over two other bidders because it demonstrated, among other things, an ability to finance the maintenance and development of the park. Prior to this, Sanborn said the state paid for all maintenance of the park at a cost of about $96,000 a year.
When Kama’aina Kids took over maintenance of He’eia State Park, tangles of shrubby invasive trees blocked views of the bay. Sanborn said there were at least 500 stray cats living on the grounds, and people would park in the lot and sell ice and other products.
Nearly six years later, kayakers have easy access to the bay, members of other nonprofits can access the He’eia fishpond, and the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement and The Nature Conservancy have offices in the park.
Only about 60 cats are left, Sanborn said, and from the parking lot there are nearly panoramic views of the aquamarine water in the bay.
The improvements and general costs of running He’eia State Park and the waterfront cost $2,326,466 from 2010 to 2015. Kama’aina Kids lost $385,230 in that time from park operations, according to the final environmental impact statement master development plan for He’eia State Park.
The majority of the improvements were accomplished by Kama’aina Kids and community volunteers over the years. The state offers grants for some projects in the park, but all the groundskeeping and beautification projects are either done by Kama’aina Kids or through a community collaboration, Sanborn said.
“We are breaking even now,” he said. “But it was an uphill battle.”
There has been no update from the state on the status of the commercial use permit for Kama’aina Kids to Sanborn, Lasher or the regional council. The council has not scheduled another meeting to follow up on the issue.
A DLNR spokesman declined to comment for this story.